Gardening is not only beneficial for our yard presentation & kitchen, but it is also an activity that is packed with health benefits! Whether your garden is a small patio planter, a backyard vegetable garden or a plot in a community garden, the act of gardening is a way to experience interactive health and healing. To give you the specifics on what gardening does for your physical & emotional well-being here are 3 major ways a little time in the garden is a must!
- Mental Health & Wellness: A Dutch study asked two groups to complete a stressful task. Afterward, one group gardened for 30 minutes, while the other group read indoors. Not only did the gardening group report better moods than the reading group, but they also had measurably lower cortisol levels. Cortisol, “the stress hormone”, may influence more than just mood: chronically elevated cortisol levels have been linked to everything from immune function to obesity to memory and learning problems and heart disease. Another long-term study followed nearly 3,000 older adults for 16 years, tracking the incidence of all kinds of dementia & assessing a variety of lifestyle factors. Researchers found daily gardening to represent the single biggest risk reduction for dementia, reducing incidence by 36%. Why does gardening make such a difference? Gardening involves so many of our critical functions, including strength, endurance, dexterity, learning, problem-solving, & sensory awareness, that its benefits are likely to represent a synthesis of various aspects. Plenty of your friends & neighbors have probably mentioned what a “lift” they get from a morning’s sweat amongst the lettuces & radishes. To add professional legitimacy to anecdotal claims, the growing field of “horticultural therapy” is giving proven results for patients with depression & other mental illnesses. The benefits appear to spring from a combination of physical activity, awareness of natural surroundings, cognitive stimulation, & the satisfaction of the work. To build the therapeutic properties of your own garden, aim for a combination of food-producing, scented, & flowering plants to nourish all the senses. Add a comfortable seat so you can continue to bask in the garden while you rest from your labors. Letting your body get a little hot & sweaty might also have hidden benefits: as devotees of hot baths & saunas can attest, elevated body temperatures are also correlated with increased feelings of well-being. (Cowan, 2014)
- Physical Health & Wellness: Gardening may be just one way to achieve your target 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise each week — but gardening provides a rewarding motivation that makes it happen, unlike a treadmill, which invites associations with hamsters in wheels. A large Stockholm study showed that regular gardening cuts stroke & heart attack risk by up to 30% for those over 60. Raised beds can save the joints & extend possible gardening years for seniors, or for anyone wishing to garden more comfortably. Make sure to expose your limbs (without sunscreen) for just 10 minutes during midday gardening: this will give you enough vitamin D to reduce risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, & various cancers. Those with the lowest Vitamin D levels may be doubling their risk of dying of heart disease & other causes: & in most cases, too much time spent indoors is to blame. Try for 30 minutes of gardening a day: if your schedule won’t let you fit in half an hour at a stretch, try a quick 15 minutes in the morning, & another 15 after work. The evidence is clear: too much sitting is dangerous for your health, so break it up as much as you can with little spurts of activity. As we age, diminishing dexterity & strength in the hands can gradually narrow the range of activities that are possible or pleasurable. Gardening keeps those hand muscles vigorous & agile without oft-forgotten exercises such as a physiotherapist might prescribe. Related research has inspired rehabilitative programs for stroke patients involving gardening tasks as a satisfying and productive way of rebuilding strength and ability. But don’t push your hands too far: gardening can also set the stage for repetitive stress injuries, tendonitis, & carpal tunnel. Practice hand-healthy gardening by using a few simple warm-ups, positioning your body comfortably & ergonomically, as well as changing tasks frequently before strain becomes evident. (Cowan, 2014)
- Immune Wellness: This one is a wild card. Not only does the Vitamin D you’re soaking in from the summer sun help you fight off colds & flus, but it turns out even the dirt under your fingernails may be working in your favor! The “friendly” soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae — common in garden dirt & absorbed by inhalation or ingestion on vegetables — has been found to alleviate symptoms of psoriasis, allergies, & asthma: all of which may stem from an out-of-whack immune system. This particular organism has also been shown to alleviate depression, so go ahead & get your hands dirty. Researchers are still speculating how our immune system may interact with our brains & play into a variety of mental health issues in addition to our ability to fend off infection: inflammation may provide the key link. (Cowan, 2014)
So, what are you waiting for… the time to get gardening is now! Wondering where to start with your fall garden? Head on over to the DIY Network & check out the article, “To-Do List for Fall Gardening” to learn how you can get started today!
Cowan, S. (2014, September 19). 6 Unexpected Health Benefits of Gardening. Retrieved September 2019, from https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/6-unexpected-health-benefits-of-gardening/.